Emergency workers speak out against EMS ‘regional partnership.’

May 24, 2018

Shelby-Benona Deputy Fire Chief Mark Burmeister, who is an Oceana County EMS employee, addresses the Oceana County Board of Commissioners.

Emergency workers speak out against EMS ‘regional partnership.’


By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

HART — Several emergency workers and citizens spoke out against a “public‐private partnership” agreement between Oceana County and Life EMS that is being explored by the Oceana County Board of Commissioners during a board meeting Thursday morning, May 24.

The union that represents Oceana County EMS ambulance service personnel strongly opposes the idea, and many EMS members voiced their opposition Thursday. Local fire department officials also expressed their opposition to the idea.

“This is concerning for all of us who work for EMS,” said Jesse Bowman. “Privatizing is not good for us or the community.”

The meeting took place in the county services building on Griswold Street to accommodate the large audience, which also included several law enforcement officers.

Although EMS officials refer to the proposed idea as “privatizing,” Oceana County Administrator Robert Sobie said it’s a “public private partnership” with Life EMS that is being explored.

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Jesse Bowman listed several services that Oceana County EMS provides that he said Life EMS does not, such as doing demonstrations at the Oceana County Fair, local schools and for Boy

Lt. Mark Haynor of the Hart Area Fire Department addresses the board.

Scout troops; providing free lift assists for patients; providing ambulances for high school football games; and serving as a standby ambulance for structure fires.

“We want to help Oceana County, because we’re residents here,” Bowman said. Oceana County EMS is more technologically advanced than Life EMS, he said. “We have high patient satisfaction ratings. We’ve been complimented by this very board for that.”

Daniel Bowman read a letter signed by nurses at Mercy Health Lakeshore Campus in Shelby that stated its “concern with the possibility of dissolving Oceana EMS.”

Fire Chief Jack White of the Hart Area and Shelby-Benona departments speaks to the commissioners.

The letter stated that “a very treatable medical problem could become potentially life threatening,” Daniel Bowman read.

“They are for-profit — that is the bottom line,” he said. “Stewardship is not just about money.”

Dealing with emergency vehicle crashes at the Silver Lake Sand Dunes “could result in death,” he said, regarding the possible EMS change.

“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” he said.

Pro Med President Tom Schmiedeknecht provided a proposal for the board to also consider utilizing Pro Med services, stating that his organization is a “non-profit agency as part of the hospital.”

Oceana County EMS employee Robert Hawk read a letter from Hart Police Chief Juan Salazar that echoed “strong support for keeping Oceana County EMS.”

“Since 1969, Oceana County EMS has existed,” Hawk read.

“The staff of Oceana County EMS is second to none,” said Jack White, who is the fire chief for both Hart Area and Shelby-Benona departments. “Your employees are your most valuable resource.”

“I want the service to continue to be at the level it is now or better, but for everyone in the county,” White stated in an email after the meeting. “I did not speak against change. I want the commissioners to make sure if a change is made that it benefits everyone – citizens, employees and visitors.”

Lt. Mark Haynor of the Hart Area Fire Department stated his concern of not having EMS standby at structure fires if the partnership is enacted. “Life EMS won’t do that, and the fire departments will be picking up the slack. That increases our response times.”

“It’s a step backwards in service,” said Haynor.

“Many people are alive today due to Oceana County EMS services, myself included and other people in this room,” said Shelby-Benona Deputy Fire Chief Mark Burmeister, who is also an Oceana County EMS employee.

“We’re looking for long-term stability,” said Commissioner Denny Powers. “Managed care is coming whether we like it or not.”

“We’re very open-minded,” Powers said. “We have a responsibility to the people of Oceana County to look at this.”

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